Factory worker arrested under suspicion of poisoning frozen food

A Japanese factory worker has been arrested on suspicion of lacing products with pesticide in a scandal that led to six million food packages recalled and hundreds of people sickened.

Toshiki Abe, a contracted worker at Aqlifood Foods Corp’s plant in Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture, was accused of fraudulent obstruction of business operations.

Frozen food products manufactured at the Gunma plant were found to contain high levels of malathion, a pesticide used in farming, gardening and for killing fleas. Nearly 3,000 people in Japan fell ill after consuming the frozen food, such as pizza and chicken nuggets, according to the health ministry.

Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc, the parent company of Aqli, publicly apologized and immediately recalled about 6.4 million packages of 94 products amid fears of mass food poisoning.

The 49-year-old worker, reportedly disgruntled over his wages at the plant, mixed the pesticide into four frozen food packages—pizza, chicken nuggets, grating and corn croquettes—between October 3 and 7.

He started working at the plant since October 2005 at the pizza production line and was among those questioned by police investigating on the possibility that that the pesticide was mixed in during the packaging stage because various products contained the malathion.

Abe went missing after his work shift on January 14 and was arrested on Friday.

Abe has denied the allegations against him. He has yet to explain why he was missing for 10 days before his arrest, police said. Traces of malathion were also found on work clothes worn by Abe at the plant.

Maruha Nichiro President Toshio Kushiro announced that he would resign at the end of March to take responsibility for the scandal.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: jarnott/Flickr

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